“420 Characters” author to visit JSC campus Oct. 3


Lou Beach will share his inspiration for both his writing and his art.

Lou Beach, the author of this year’s common reading book, will be arriving on campus Wednesday, Oct. 3, to talk about his collection of very short stories, “420 Characters.”

This fall marked the sixth year of the Common Reading Initiative program at Johnson State College, part of an effort to improve first-year experience for new students and transfers. 

“It has been demonstrated through a lot of research that when communities get together and have a program like this, it is a good way for new students to integrate with the campus,” said Emily Neilsen, coordinator of first year events at JSC. “It adds a certain amount of dynamic energy to a campus to have so many people thinking and talking about this one book. It’s also a great way for faculty and staff to get to know students they wouldn’t know otherwise. I still remember the names of people in my group, and when they walk by me I’m like, ‘Hey Quinn, what’s up?’ and I would have no interaction with some of those people if we hadn’t had that [common] discussion.”

The decision behind this year’s common read was not reached easily. Neilsen explained that a committee of faculty, staff, administrators and students considered a number of books until finally whittling it down to a selection where “420 Characters” and “In the Sea There Are Crocodiles,” among several others, were considered.

Ultimately the committee decided to go with “420 Characters” because it was different. “I think people were really attracted to the fact that it was visual, that there were these beautiful collages in it, that the book itself is really beautiful,” said Neilsen. “It only comes in hardback and it has this gold embossing on it, so it’s something that’s really nice to hold and have. And also it has this connection to social media and expression in the digital age, so it opened up a door for a totally different kind of conversation than our typical common read choices.”

Beach will be arriving on campus Wednesday morning and kick off his tour at JSC by visiting classrooms and meeting with English majors. At 8 p.m. in Dibden he will read from his newest fiction as well as talk about how he came to the project of “420 Characters.”

This event will then be followed by a book signing.

On Thursday morning, Oct. 4, Beach will wrap up his visit by leading a walk-through for art students in the wings of Dibden, where an exhibit of his collages is on display.